ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Environmental officials in New Mexico called Kirtland Air Force Base’s efforts to determine the extent of jet fuel groundwater contamination inadequate and are demanding new monitoring wells to determine the risk to Albuquerque drinking water wells.
The Albuquerque Journal reported that the criticism the New Mexico Environment Department leveled in a letter Friday comes after the latest data show contamination from a decades-old leak migrating northeast beneath southeast Albuquerque with no clear picture of how close the fuel is to the wells that provide drinking water to area neighborhoods.
Report: Kirtland contamination has expanded (March 24, 2011)
AF submits plans to deal with Kirtland spill (June 19, 2010)
The fuel came from underground pipes at a Kirtland aircraft fuel loading facility built in the 1950s. Air Force officials first noticed something amiss in 1999, but they think it had been leaking for decades. An Environment Department analysis concluded that as much as 8 million gallons may have leaked unnoticed over the years.
It was not until 2007 that Air Force investigations revealed the fuel had reached the water table and was moving off the Air Force base, beneath the neighborhoods of southeast Albuquerque and toward the city’s water wells.
Since then, the Air Force, under pressure from the Environment Department, has cast an ever-wider net of monitoring wells, trying to figure out how far the fuel has spread.
Water quality tests, funded in part by the Air Force, show the contamination has not yet reached the drinking water wells. If it does, a water utility would have to shut down one of its most productive well fields, which are critical to providing water to that part of the city, officials said.
Experts said the contamination, found in groundwater some 500 feet underground, poses no threat to residents living above the migrating plume of fuel.
The utility has begun to discuss contingency plans for how it might provide water to the neighborhood if contamination reaches the wells, but there is currently no way to simply shut down the wells and still provide service, said David Morris, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
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